This year, Christmas was a family affair in France. We stayed at my parents’ place in Nantes with my sister (25 years old), my brother (22 years old), my grandparents on both sides, my uncle, aunt and my two young cousins.
Yes, I have a rather large family.
And now I have my own—Feng, Mark and I are a family-in-training.
It’s funny how a kid changes dynamics.
My parents are young, in their early fifties, and my brother and sister are barely out of their teens. Suddenly, they have been promoted to the grade of “grand-maman”, “grand-papa”, “tata” and “tonton”. As for me, I’m a mother, a wife and then a daughter and a sister.
In a family, everyone has a role. As the oldest, I have always been the peacekeeper and the caretaker.
Sometime, I can’t help feeling I no longer exist. It’s probably a silly paranoid thought, a simple misunderstanding. But I do get annoyed when, on bad days, I call my mum on Skype for some comfort and the first thing she asks is “Is Mark here? Can you turn the webcam on, can I see him?”
“Yes, of course Mark is here!” I feel like shouting. “Where else on earth would he be? He’s been clinging to me the entire day! Meanwhile *I* am not okay, can you please be here for me?”
People find Mark cute, smart, bright, funny, etc. Hey, I’m not going to disagree. Yet, our son can be a real pain in the butt. When he doesn’t blind his father or throw tantrums, he refuses to sleep. When I leave him in his room for two minutes to go pee, he screams as if a giant bear was eating him alive. And if I show signs of annoyance, my parents just say “I know, I know… but look, he is so cute!”
Yeah, thanks, I know. He is doing fine. I am just worried he is killing us and I need advice and a sympathetic ear, that’s all.
“You’re overreacting,” my dad said jokingly a few times. No, I’m not. Sure, it’s fine if he goes to bed at 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve but I certainly won’t do that at home—otherwise, when do I rest, when do I work?
Becoming a mother, I feel like I lost my parents’ attention. I wish someone would take care of me. I’m usually pretty good at taking care of myself, I’ve been doing so for a long time. But these days, I spent all my energy on Mark and I forgot myself in the process. Before I can do anything, including the basics such as eating, sleeping or taking a shower, I have to make sure he is okay—fed, changed, bathed, busy playing, etc. The world revolves around Mark, rightly so… but why can’t anyone do something nice for me, for once?
Dynamics also changed with Feng’s parents, my in-laws. I jokingly nicknamed them the “Bùkū” (不哭), which means “don’t cry” in Mandarin. It took Mark about six months to get used to them, he used to scream on top of his lungs every time they held him or played with him, and they would pace the living-room repeating “don’t cry, don’t cry!”
Feng’s parents are nice people, albeit very stubborn and convinced that they know best. They also tend to forget their only son is almost 40, not 10, and they constantly remind him to dress warm, look both ways when crossing the street, get a better job, buy insurance, etc. Their motto should be “if it’s not broken, let’s fix it anyway”.
I use to dread their weekly visit because they invariably took over the house, bringing tons of food we don’t eat (“But it’s healthy! But it’s cheap!”), fix or replace stuff that should have been left alone and impart their precious wisdom until it results in arguments with Feng.
Now, the “Bùkū” are entirely dedicated to their one and only grandson and don’t have much time—or energy—left to “fix” us. They buy toys instead of filling our fridge, and they are on Mark’s back instead of being on ours.
I love them even more… since they leave us alone. Plus they can help out with Mark. Sure, it annoys me when they overfeed him or insist to dress him with two pairs of pants and five sweaters (he may catch a cold at home, after all it’s only 25°C indoor… right?) but Mark is safe with them and we, the parents, can get a break.
Building a family isn’t easy… nor it is to deal with your existing one!